The 'Hug'

Chapter 24

Alfred remained in the hospital begrudgingly for another few days for the doctors to be sure that he was keeping hydrated to avoid another relapse. But with Alfred confident that he had pushed through what was really blocking his ability to let his naturally fast-healing body heal, he was more vocal about his complaints to get up and move around again. But he did manage to avoid breaking anything else, due in large part to Matthew and Arthur's actions as Francis typically stayed away in fear of Alfred potentially ruining any of his own things.

"I appreciate the offer Arthur, I really do, but I can rest up on my own at home just as I'd do here." Alfred said as he gathered up his things to carry out of the hospital, minus a wine bottle that had been consumed earlier on. Francis had made a significant dent in it, but when the trio had returned to find it empty, Alfred had to deal with another round of Arthur's admonishments when he didn't believe that it was the reaper who'd partaken of the last bits. Alfred hadn't been awake for that, and knew that it could have just as likely been anyone in the hospital, but Arthur had shaken his head at the supposed actions of Alfred while Francis had merely laughed. Not even his argument that Arthur had once considered certain drinks medicinal had held ground with the British personification who immediately retorted that Alfred was thinking of brandy, not wine. This had started another argument over the merits of wine between Arthur and Francis and Alfred had been left to talk over them with his brother.

"Alfred, you know you'd just sit in front of the television and play those ridiculous games of yours." Arthur argued back as they made their way out of the hospital.

"So? I'd still be doin' what the doctors suggested. But I'm…" Alfred continued to argue, even as they reached Arthur's car and got inside. "What about my boss? I haven't spoken with him yet about anything so I should probably…" He continued, trying to appeal to the other man's sense of responsibility.

"Matthew's taking care of that." Arthur said, effectively shutting up the American man. "He couldn't get another flight so since he's back in his home, he'll be tying up loose ends there before he heads back here. You'll be seeing him in about a week or so." Arthur said as he pulled out and began to make his way to his house.

"A week? Come on, bro, what am I supposed to do around your house for a week if you won't actually let me do anything?" Alfred whined, reclining his seat back a little to get comfortable. "I won't even have the usual shows you and Francis put on to entertain me."

"Ha ha…" Arthur muttered, not taking his eyes off the road. "Francis is just across the channel and while he offered to, ahem, 'nurture you back to full health', I took the liberty of declining for you." Arthur said, hearing a muffled thanks coming from his passenger seat. "But I'm sure he'll pop up sooner or later now that the drama seems to be over. It is, isn't it? You're not keeping anything to yourself this time, are you?" Arthur asked with a quick glance to Alfred, but the other man made a questionable sound as though not sure himself.

"Bro, you know I still would've been fine at home. Tony's there and he's pretty good with taking care of me…sorta….he's still learning about human anatomy after all these years. I've had a few, um, unpleasant wake ups when he was trying to 'help'." Alfred said, Arthur grimacing at the thought of that creepy gray creature that roomed in one of Alfred's houses. Alfred kept up with using the term 'bro' more often with Arthur than was typical if it was slang, just to see if the other might respond, but so far there had only been the usual reprimands to speak properly. With that comment still lingering in the air, the rest of the car ride was mostly silent as the two eventually pulled up to Arthur's house.

"Huh…" Alfred said as he got out and grabbed his things, looking over the house. "Thought it'd be more like a castle or somethin'." He said as he followed Arthur up to the front door.

"Honestly Alfred. It's the twenty-first century and you expect me to be in a drafty caste?" Arthur asked with a smile on his face. Alfred shrugged as he entered the large house, sighing as he spotted the couch and immediately plopping down onto it.

"Don't mean you can't live in one. There are some in my home too that people have brought over from Europe or built to look like them." Alfred said as he curled up on the couch. "Wicked awesome too." He said with a yawn while Arthur continued to chuckle.

"Maybe next time I'll show you one of my other houses then. If I can stand you for the next week." Arthur said, smirking as Alfred mumbled behind a pillow that it was Arthur's own fault for setting such a large stretch of time for Alfred's imprisonment.

For the next few days, Alfred and Arthur were able to get along decently with only a few arguments that weren't as lighthearted as their usual back and forth conversations went. Food and television seemed to be the main topics of discussion on the fourth night as Arthur tried to determine if something was bothering Alfred other than his desire to be active again.

"So, I thought I'd surprise you but I will undoubtedly mess up what you would call an order…so, would you like me to run to McDonald's for supper tonight?" Arthur tried to subtly ask, but at the way Alfred's eyes widened, he knew he'd botched that up.

"Uh…that…that's real nice of you bro but…you don't need to do that." Alfred said, sitting up from his cocoon of blankets he'd trapped himself in on the couch. As a part of trying to get Alfred to talk with him, not that the American ever really shut up and certainly wasn't as quiet as his twin, Arthur had caved and put in one of the few scary movies he had in his house. He'd threatened more documentaries to get Alfred to not be so stubborn and just let Arthur take care of him, but he'd noticed that Alfred had seemed more lost in thought lately.

"Alfred, I know you're not overly fond of my cooking – even though you were perfectly fine with it when you were younger…" Arthur said, stopping himself from going off into a tangent at the look on Alfred's face.

"Only 'cuz there are some really disgusting recipes here dude." Alfred said as he made a face in disgust. "Like that one with the sheep intestines all bunched up and put on a plate. Eww…" Alfred said, Arthur sighing and hanging his head.

"That my brother Scott's dish and it's called hagas, twit." Arthur explained, only half expecting Alfred to listen. "But I'll admit I don't' have the stomach for it either." He said, Alfred's face scrunching up as though to hold back laughter. But the American gave in and laughed loudly a couple of times.

"Oh, dude…did you seriously just hit me with a bad pun? Stomach for it, ha ha ha, 'cuz it's the sheep's stomach. Ha ha ha…" Alfred laughed, Arthur smiling and laughing once as he realized what he'd said.

"But seriously, Alfred…" Arthur said in an attempt to get the other's focus back on the previous topic. "I know you don't like all of my cooking but you haven't been eating much. Drinking, yes, but you're starting to look a little pale again. I can go get you something you'd prefer…" Arthur suggested, motioning over to the door as he expected Alfred to readily agree with him after he'd called the other man out on his finicky eating habits.

"No, I'm just…I'm fine Arthur. You make a decent-enough dinner that I can scrape the burnt parts off of." Alfred said, reclining against the side of the couch.

"Well thank you Alfred for your most touching compliment, but you still need to eat." Arthur said, an idea coming into his mind. He left Alfred with a confused look on his face and went to one of his closets, letting out a triumphant sound as he spotted the first aid tools he'd had for several years. He was certain that it was outdated by now, but Alfred might not be aware of that and that was all Arthur would need. He took a deep breath to call on all his spy and actor skills before coming back into the room to sit beside Alfred on the couch.

"Alright…You've seemed to have lost your appetite and I know you'd rather not go back to the hospital." He began, satisfied when Alfred stopped pretending to ignore him at that last comment. "So, I can look you over." He said, holding the bag of items he'd grabbed from his closet. "I'm not as well versed as Lithuania but I've learned from experience over the years." He said, not entirely lying. Alfred's eyes widened almost comically as he scooted away from the other man. Arthur had to bite his cheek to keep from laughing at the panic on the other personification's face. "Unless you'd prefer to just talk to me?" He suggested as a last attempt before having to continue with his act. At the emphatic shake of Alfred's head, Arthur sighed and pulled out the stethoscope. He had some basic idea of what to look for, but he was counting on Alfred to crack at some point and just tell him. He'd gotten close when Alfred had insisted on cuddling with him after the scary movie had ended, but he'd gotten a taste of Alfred's strength and spent most of the time trying to keep Alfred from crushing him on accident.

"No way, bro." Alfred said, reaching for the covers, but Arthur was quicker and had pulled them down to the floor. "There ain't a thing wrong with me 'cept you tryin' a little too hard to get me to eat apparently."

Arthur rolled his eyes and huffed in annoyance. "There's nothing wrong with you except for your speech perhaps. But still, if you won't just tell me…" He started to say but Alfred interrupted as he continued to tug on the blanket.

"No…Look, I'll have one of those things you call crumpets later, alright?" Alfred tried to bargain with Arthur. "Aren't you always tellin' me I need to cut back anyway?" He said, gaining more blanket as Arthur's grip surprised him by going slack.

"Is that what's going on here?" Arthur asked in a more concerned tone, sincerity in his question as he looked to Alfred. Alfred huffed but shrugged his shoulders as he readjusted on the couch. "You've decided to what? Stop eating now that the doctors told you not to take those ridiculous pills?" Arthur asked, trying to not sound angry with the other man.

"No. That's not it, but thanks for reminding me of how spectacularly that went." Alfred said, letting the blankets fall back into his lap.

"Well, then, I'm going to have to look you over since you're not being clear with me." Arthur said, but was surprised when Alfred shrugged again and tried to call Arthur's bluff.

"Go ahead bro." Alfred said, Arthur eyeing him suspiciously as he thought over how the American personification could hold quite a poker face when he tried. Arthur thought it would at least be hilarious if he surprised Alfred, even if the other wouldn't be forthcoming with talking to him. He waited until it looked like Alfred had eased up under the assumption that Arthur had backed off, reclining back and closing his eyes. Arthur then quickly pulled up Alfred's shirt and placed the cold metal of the stethoscope on Alfred's chest, the other man's eyes flying open and hand flailing to smack Arthur's hand away.

"No, no…" Alfred said, Arthur chuckling at Alfred's over-the-top reaction. "I'm…I'm fine. Or I will be. Just stop." Alfred said as he pulled his shirt down, piquing Arthur's worry.

"What are you talking about?" Arthur said, placing the stethoscope next to him on the couch. He hadn't even had the earpiece in at the time, but Alfred didn't seem to realize that detail. "Alfred, what are you keeping from me?" He asked, Alfred fidgeting on the couch.

"I'm sorry…" Alfred said. "I'm just…trying to piece things together. I don't want you to…" Alfred started to say before mumbling into the blanket. Arthur sighed but pulled the blanket away, shooting a look to Alfred to repeat what he was saying. "Ugh…I sorta remember that last dream when I was pretty sure I was gonna die and there was somethin' really important I can't help but feel I was supposed to pass onto you." Alfred said, Arthur shifting a little on the couch to give Alfred some space. "Like, I remember running – a lot of being chased by something to the point I thought my chest was gonna burst or somethin'." Alfred said, Arthur nodding to encourage Alfred to say something else.

"Yes. On this end we could tell something was the matter. Of course, the doctors said they were panic attacks or night terrors strong enough to have you gasping for air." Arthur said, not looking enthused to recall those experiences.

"And there was the reaper again at some point and…I told Mattie but I'm working on recalling things. I'll be fine…just need to drink more or something." Alfred said, but Arthur wasn't letting the other man stall to the point where he had left before saying anything. Normally Alfred wasn't the best at keeping quiet, but Arthur knew the other could definitely find a way to stall when he was uncomfortable or was trying to avoid a potentially embarrassing situation.

"Well then, why don't you let me look you over, just to humor me?" Arthur said, keeping up the act to at least get Alfred to do more than drink, knowing that the other man needed something else. He placed the earpiece in and made as though to return to examining Alfred. But Alfred grabbed one of the pillows to block Arthur's movements.

"Stop…" Alfred said, looking down, "…that's…that's where the problem is." He said, looking guiltily to Arthur. The British man tried to understand what the other meant, his confusion evident on his face before he pulled the pillow away and placed the metal piece on Alfred before the other could protest. Alfred stiffened and Arthur wondered what could possibly be making Alfred so tense and anxious, but Alfred yanked the stethoscope out of his hands and tossed it across the room.

"Alfred, you idiot! What was that all about?!" Arthur grumbled as he got up to fetch the thing, Alfred hurriedly turning onto his side and covering himself with a blanket. "I'm just trying to help you, ungrateful git!" He said, huffing in frustration. He was putting things back together to return to the closet, grumbling to Alfred about how childish he was being, before a thought suddenly occurred to him that halted his motions. "Alfred…what did you mean, that's where the problem is?" He asked, but the only answer from the American was the shaking of the blanket. "Alfred…" He began again but Alfred huffed and held the blankets tighter.

"Fine. Be that way." Arthur said in frustration. "How very mature of you America. I don't know why I bother." He said, grabbing his bag and storming off, determined to confront Alfred later. He figured it might be possible to get him to be in more of a conversing mood after another scary movie, although he did wonder why Alfred was so afraid of ghosts in those films when he apparently could see grim reapers. Arthur sighed, thinking that Alfred probably never realized he was seeing ghosts when he saw them unless they looked like that thing he'd seen through Matthew's glasses. And while he commended Alfred for any possible effort on the other's part to try and use those films as an education of sorts on ghosts, he knew that Alfred only ended up scaring himself with possibilities of what he may also run into. It's no wonder he gets so worked up with the thought that he might one day run into one of those cheap horror film monsters, Arthur thought as he made his way to the kitchen to try and make something Alfred would deem edible. As he did, his phone rang, the phone registering the call as Matthew. He made small talk with the other nation as Matthew informed Arthur of everything he did so he could relay it to Alfred, including his plans to visit England's house.

"Matthew, I tried to get your brother to talk to me about what's been bothering him. He mentioned that he's been trying to piece together those horrible dreams he had while under the curse." Arthur said as he moved about the kitchen. "I'm still not certain how he broke it but if anyone could find an entirely unique way of doing so, it would be America." He said, Matthew laughing in agreement at Alfred's personality.

"Absolutely, eh. But is there something wrong?" Matthew asked, picking up on the way Arthur spoke when he was leading into a question. At Arthur's prompting, Matthew relayed everything that he knew of Alfred's experience with the curse.

Alfred watched out of the corner of his eye, Arthur reenter the room with the phone to his ear. He heard him thanking someone and then hanging up before he closed the remaining distance between him and Alfred. He roughly pulled Alfred's blanket off of him as Alfred protested, calling him a crotchety old man and reaching for it back.

"Up. We're going back to the hospital." Arthur said as he struggled to pull the taller and stronger nation to his feet. Even though Alfred had been ill and his strength slightly diminished, he was more than a match for Arthur in their game of tug-of-war.

"What? No way man. Not cool." Alfred said as he protested. "Your place is in the middle of nowhere anyway and it'd take forever. I don't need to go back. Paranoia is gettin' to ya along with those hallucinations dude." He said, giving a sharper tug and ending up with Arthur in his lap.

"You're going back because I say so." Arthur said. "Good God man! Do you think this is some sort of game I enjoy playing with you? Why can't you follow anything through to the end?" He ranted, standing up and taking a few steps away from Alfred, who had stilled at hearing Arthur quote himself from a day long ago. "I just talked with Matthew and he told me what you said the reaper did. Alfred, you can't hide something like a heart condition and expect it to just go away." Arthur said turning back around. Alfred was staring at him in a way that made Arthur think the other was about to start crying.

"Dude that's it!" Alfred said, jolting to his feet. "That's what I was trying to remember!" Alfred said, running a hand through his hair and laughing boisterously at his epiphany.

"You forgot?! Alfred I knew that head of yours had more air in it than most others, but that's not something you just….oomphf" Arthur was saying incredulously, only to be cut off as Alfred wrapped his arms around him. "Wha…What's this?" Arthur asked.

"It's called a hug, silly Britain!" Alfred said, feeling and hearing Arthur sigh against him in dissatisfaction at the response. "You need more hugs so you don't feel cold. Then you'd be like Ivan…" he said, shivering at the thought.

"Excuse me? I am not cold." Arthur said, struggling to get out of Alfred's tight grip. Alfred laughed again, Arthur both frustrated and a little relieved at hearing it sounding more like his usual level of obnoxiousness.

"Not you you, but the other you. The one you made as part of that curse." Alfred said, Arthur looking at him in complete confusion. "I mean, those nightmares were my own at the start but there was always this smoke or fog and by the time I was stuck in the last one, I realized that I was sharing it with something else." Alfred said, Arthur successfully managing to guide Alfred over to the couch. Based on the way Arthur was looking at him, Alfred tried to rush through the rest of what he recalled before the other man called an ambulance to take Alfred to an asylum.

"Look, you never told me what your curse really ended up being, but it was like my body, well, mind, subconsciously recognized an intruder's mind – or part of a mind, the part that has all the nightmares – and it was fighting it off." Alfred said, finally releasing Arthur as he gestured with his hands as he spoke. "Yeah, and so I was replaying certain memories or things I'd seen before and then putting whatever was bothering you, and me I guess sometimes, into the dream. Took forever to figure out and it was only a last minute thing thanks to what the reaper said to me." He said to Arthur before looking away and bringing a hand up to his chin in thought, head cocked and cowlick bouncing.

"I wonder if it really did visit and actually said those things. I could hear Matthew at one point talking to me so I'd bet it could've done the same. But I heard your voice and that's what I needed to hear to put it all together. And all I needed to do was share that warmth I got from your voice with that lizard-alien version of you that I came up with as something to face off against." He said, Arthur looking offended that Alfred would visualize him as an alien monster. Alfred could see that on his face, laughing a few times and deciding to leave for later the detail about the feelers over the creature's eyes that helped give it away. "So I'm sharing the warmth with you in case you're still upset. Hug-time!" He finished unexpectedly, launching himself at Arthur once again and encasing him in a tight hug.

Arthur sputtered a few times in protest before smiling gently and letting Alfred hold him for a little longer. Surprisingly, Arthur found that he didn't mind overly much the show of affection and the good intentions behind Alfred's actions, so long as the hug didn't last too long like Alfred always managed to do. Arthur had seriously begun to suspect that Alfred wasn't going to let go until the next day before Alfred's stomach made its emptiness known and Arthur returned to making dinner. They ended up watching another movie Alfred had requested, Arthur unable to answer his phone when Alfred's grip on him didn't let up, the other man following him later on into his bedroom under the excuse of making sure that Arthur wasn't too scared from the movie. Arthur merely groaned a little but scooted over in his bed to make room for Alfred, the bed bouncing at the hardly gentle entry of the American personification. Arthur had been falling asleep when he heard Alfred quietly whisper a good night to Arthur before snores reached him from the other side of the bed. Arthur smiled as he heard that, less irritated than usual when Alfred predictably rolled over on top of him in his sleep. He petted the other's hair, knowing that he probably wouldn't be admitting aloud to anyone his thoughts and feelings toward Alfred as anything remotely resembling brotherly. He figured Alfred, who'd been annoyingly trying to get Arthur to say something about that topic, would understand that there was a reason their partnership was called a 'special relationship'. Sure, there were other 'special relationships', but Arthur was content with the knowledge that saying it once was enough for Alfred to remember that he did care for him despite their arguments and occasional misfire of a curse.

But apparently Feliciano's original suggestion to solve their problems with a hug was all that was needed. Unfortunately, a warm hug was the farthest thing from Arthur's mind when he woke up to the sound of a camera going off and seeing Francis standing in the doorway with a smirk on his face – Arthur knew he should've answered that call – but Alfred's smile in his sleep was worth the blackmail. After all, as a result of all this, Arthur was planning on going through his spell books once more.


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